The Morris Family of Surveyors

The post of Chief Surveyor (later known as Surveyor General) of Nova Scotia was held by four successive generations of the Morris family.

Many of the early British settlements in Nova Scotia were recorded in maps made by Charles Morris, his son, and his grandson. Charles I was born in Boston and was commissioned in 1746 by Governor Shirley to serve in Nova Scotia. In 1748 he was ordered to conduct surveys of the Minas and Chignecto regions to identify Acadian settlements. He made a map of the upper part of the Bay of Fundy and went on to map other parts of Nova Scotia. In 1749, he partnered with John Brewse to survey and lay out the town of Halifax. Morris settled in the city and was appointed Chief Surveyor for the province, with his office on the south-east corner of what are now Hollis and Morris Streets. While the building was moved south along Hollis Street around 1895, and then to Creighton Street in 2013, Morris House remains the oldest commercial building in Halifax.

From 1753 to 1754, Morris supervised laying out the town of Lunenburg, including an area east of the town where residents could grow their vegetables, still known as Garden Lots. Surveys were also made for farm lots beyond the town.

With the Deportation of the Acadians, for which Morris was largely responsible, their farmlands were left vacant. In 1759, Governor Lawrence invited families from New England to come to work them. The newcomers, known as Planters, were used to the orderly governance of New England communities, and measures were taken to enable them to maintain this lifestyle. Charles Morris with teams of 30 or 40 men surveyed the former Acadian farmlands around the Bay of Fundy and laid out townships. Each township had a town that was plotted in a gridiron pattern, still visible today in many towns in the region. The towns varied in size, but typically space was set aside for a church, school, and parade ground for the militia as well as house lots. Beyond the town boundaries there was a common and farm lots, each with areas of upland, meadow, and marsh 

In the early 1760s the Planters came to take up their grants under Morris’s supervision. In 1762, he turned his attention to establishing more townships on the South Shore, and later in areas of present-day New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

As well as serving as Chief Surveyor, Morris was known to be a good administrator and held various public offices including Justice of the Peace and judge. He died in 1781.

What Charles I did for the Planters, his son did for the influx of Loyalists in the 1780s. Charles II was born in Massachusetts and lived there until 1760, when he came to Nova Scotia and worked with his father. For the last five years of Charles I’s life, his son carried out the function alone, but only received the official appointment as Surveyor General upon his father’s death.

While the arrival of the Planters had been conducted in an orderly manner, the influx of refugees from the American Revolution was harder to manage. In places like Shelburne, which bore the brunt of the crisis, Morris and his deputies had difficulty keeping ahead of the demands for land to be surveyed to accommodate the waves of Americans wanting plots. Nevertheless, surveys needed to be made, town plots laid out, and the flood of land claims dealt with. Morris felt he was inadequately paid, and to add to his problems, he suffered from gout, so much of the field work was done by his deputies. Among his assistants was his son, also named Charles. 

Charles II served as a member of the Assembly and of the Legislative Council, a registrar of the Vice-Admiralty Court, and sundry other offices. He made money by buying and selling land, perhaps demonstrating a conflict of interest that would be frowned upon today. He died in 1802 and was succeeded as Surveyor General by his son, Charles Morris III.

This third member of the family to hold the office came to Nova Scotia with his parents in 1760. After serving in the military during the American Revolution, he became a deputy surveyor and assisted in settlements for Loyalists. As Surveyor General, after the War of 1812, Charles III surveyed land in the interior of Nova Scotia along the Halifax-Annapolis Road intended for disbanded soldiers, and he drew up plans for Indian Reservations. He, too, held several other public offices.

Charles III was succeeded as Surveyor General by his son, John Spry Morris, and several other members of the family served as deputy surveyors. The Morris family played a notable part in establishing many Nova Scotian communities.



Morris House was originally at 1273 Morris Street on the corner of Hollis Street.